BELTON – The Lorena softball team knew it had no margin for error against top-ranked Liberty Hill after the Lady Leopards dropped their regional final opener earlier in the week in a one-run game.
Although third-ranked Lorena played another near-mistake-free game, the Lady Panthers once again claimed a tight contest and the series with a 2-1 victory in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon at Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Dee Dillon Field.
Liberty Hill (38-2) scored the winning run in the top of the seventh inning when shortstop Joely Williamson smacked an RBI double deep to left field and the Lady Panthers held on in the bottom of the inning.
By sweeping the best-of-three series, Liberty Hill advances to the Class 4A state tournament later this week in Austin.
Lorena (28-6), the District 17-4A champion, finished its season in the regional final round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
“I just told them, ‘You’re state quality to me,’” Lorena coach Steve Dolezell said. “We’re right there. It’s a game of inches. We win that game 3-2, but for a foul ball that was six inches foul. We’d have scored two runs on that.”
Lorena took the lead in the bottom of the third when shortstop Kaci Donaldson reached base on a bunt single, then stole second. Third baseman Jordan Generals delivered a two-out single to right to score Donaldson and, just like in Game 1, the Lady Leopards struck first.
But, just like in the series opener, Liberty Hill answered in its next at-bat.
Lady Panthers second baseman Kinsey Kuhlmann led off the top of the fourth with a home run over the wall in center field to tie it at 1.
Lorena pitcher Rachel Williams got out of the fourth without giving up the lead.
The Lady Leopards threatened to go ahead again in the bottom of the fourth when catcher Brooke Haberman walked and designated player Rebekah Moseley singled to center.
With two out, Lorena left fielder Alana Alston hit a shot to right field that looked like it could be a game-changing hit. But it landed inches to the right of the foul line and Alston eventually grounded out to third base to end the threat.
Lorena put runners on base in the sixth and seventh innings, yet couldn’t plate a crucial run.
Liberty Hill center fielder Carissa Garza hit a one-out bloop single to left in the top of the seventh. Garza stole second and scored on Williamson’s double with two outs in the frame.
“They’re a good hitting team,” Dolezel said. “You’ve got to be laser sharp on everything or they make you pay and they did.”
Liberty Hill pitcher Abby Covington didn’t overpower the Lorena lineup, but consistently induced ground outs and pop outs, including the final out of the contest, a fly ball to shallow center that sent the Lady Panthers on to the state tournament.